Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Things that caught my eye in the backyard today

I rarely take photos of the backyard because I'm perennially dissatisfied with it. Granted, there are areas I like, but as a whole, it's never come together the way the front yard has. The reason is simple: dry shade. There's a lot of it because of the way the lot is oriented; our next-door neighbor's house; and four mature California bay trees (Umbellularia californica) with a canopy so dense, it sucks up all the light. How I've tried to deal with dry shade, that's a topic for a separate post. For now, suffice it to say that I haven't been very successful.

Still, here's a collection of photos I took earlier today just to prove to myself that there are things worth showing.


This is our lone contestant in the fall color contest, a Chinese pistache (Pistacia chinensis). The Chinese pistache is indeed related to the pistachio (Pistacia vera) as well as the turpentine tree (Pistacia terebinthus).

Sunday, November 29, 2020

If you buy only one book this year, make it Fearless Gardening

 There are a lot of things you can give a gardener for the holidays—from the humorous to the practical—but what's better than inspiration in the form of a book? I'm a big fan of books, the old-fashioned printed kind, and I love giving and receiving them. Fortunately for all us, there seems to be no shortage of books relating to gardens, gardening, and plants. Just a take a look at Amazon's landing page for Gardening & Landscape Design

For better or for worse, there are so many books out there, it can be downright difficult to choose. I'll have a separate post soon with some recommendations, but let's jump right to the top of my list. If you buy only one gardening-related book this year, make it Fearless Gardening by Loree Bohl.


Fearless Gardening won't officially come out until January 5, 2021so you can't give it as physical gift for the holidays. But you could make up a gift certificate for your favorite gardening friends and relatives. That way they'd start out the new year with a book chock full of garden inspiration.

Thursday, November 26, 2020

Happy Thanksgiving!

With any luck, we'll never see another year like 2020 in our lifetimes, but even amidst all the chaos and uncertainty there's a lot to be thankful for.

On that note, HAPPY THANKSGIVING to y'all. Enjoy the day with your loved ones, whether in person or virtually, and, above all, stay healthy.



Sunday, November 22, 2020

Pre-Thanksgiving front garden favorites

I find it hard to accept the fact that it's almost Thanksgiving. What a strange year it's been. Sometimes it seems like we've been stuck in 2020 for an eternity, and yet at other times, it feels like time has flown by even faster than usual. 

We had a little rain last week (emphasis on little), and while it wasn't enough to soak the soil, it did wash away the worst of the surface grime. A good opportunity to take a look at some of my favorites in the front garden!

Entrance to the front garden. I still can't believe these ponytail palms (Beaucarnea recurvata) are taller than the garage roof now!

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Mid-November aloe updates from our garden

With a couple of exceptions, most of my recent posts have focused on other gardens. There's nothing wrong with that, of course, especially considering how special my most recent visits have been (ample proof: Casper's and Daryl's garden, Justin's and Max's gardenKay's garden, Piece of Eden, and Hidden Agave Ranch). 

But after a long summer lull, things are picking up in our own garden. Some developments are me springing into action, others are just nature doing its thing. In the latter category, many aloes are responding to the noticeably cooler nights by taking on reddish and purplish hues. Here are some photos taken over the weekend:

Aloe 'Yemeni Gold' (far left, still green), Aloe excelsa (tomato soup red), Yucca 'Bright Star' (its usual color and obviously not an aloe), and Aloe marlothii (lavender gray)

Friday, November 13, 2020

A league of its own: Casper's and Daryl's garden in Oakland (part 2)

As I said in part 1 of this post, Casper and Daryl's hillside garden in Oakland would be impressive enough if it only consisted of the lower portion. But there was a lot more to come. 

As I was climbing the stairs, I had no clear idea what I would see. Frankly, that's my favorite way of experiencing a garden I'm visiting for the first time: with no expectations and no preconceived ideas. The less I know ahead of time, the more exciting it becomes; there's always time to find out more later on.

On that note, let's start a few steps up from where part 1 left off:

As you know, I'm not biggest fan of Agave americana, but this specimen is magnificent. It might be the variety expansa, the largest of the species.

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

A league of its own: Casper's and Daryl's garden in Oakland (part 1)

 All of us occasionally hear talk of very special gardens almost too good to be true. 

“Have you been to so-and-so's garden? It's really something!”

“You haven't seen so-and-so's garden? You must go!”

“I can't believe you haven't visited so-and-so's garden. It's unreal!”

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to visit one of these gardens thanks to my friend Mat McGrath. He introduced me to Casper Curto who created the garden with his partner Daryl Ducharme. As it turns out, Casper and Daryl live just a few miles from my friends Justin and Max, and they all know each other (we went over to Justin's and Max's garden afterwards). Proof that it's a small world and that there's quite a network of gardeners and plant enthusiasts in the Bay Area.

Justin, Max, and Casper in front of Casper and Daryl's Oakland house

Casper and Daryl live in a hilly part of Oakland, and their property slopes up from the house. I had assumed that their lot was city-sized, somewhere between 5,000 and 7,000 square feet. Boy, was I mistaken!

Thursday, November 5, 2020

Major bamboo removal in our front yard

This post is both of a source of sadness and excitement for me. Why? Because we're losing another clumping bamboo, leaving just two. That's a considerable decrease since the early days of this blog when it was called “Bamboo and More.” I still love bamboo, but since our garden is so small, every square foot matters—and bamboo takes up a significant chunk of real estate.

Since Monday was curbside yard waste pickup here in Davis, I decided to use the weekend to remove the clump of Asian lemon bamboo (Bambusa eutuldoides 'Viridivittata') in the front yard:


It's been a huge presence in this spot for many years:

Monday, November 2, 2020

Justin's and Max's Oakland garden: the back

In part 1 of my visit to Justin's and Max's Oakland garden I showed the plantings in front of the house. This post is about the back garden. 

While the front garden is more of a square, the back garden is a long rectangle along the side of the house, maybe a bit over 1,000 sq.ft. in size. But don't let that description fool you. What this area lacks in size it more than makes up for in visual impact. 

As I mentioned before, Max is a horticulturist with a deep plant knowledge—an access to wealth of plant sources. Justin, an Episcopalian priest, may not be a plant professional, but he, too, knows a ton about plants. Both of them are drawn to plants that are anything but ordinary. This post is living proof.

Iochroma 'Royal Blue' from Annie's Annuals. Iochromas are shrubs or small trees native to South America where they grow in relatively moist forest conditions. That explains why I've failed miserably trying to grow them in our garden in Davis.

Saturday, October 31, 2020

Justin's and Max's Oakland garden: the front

Last weekend, I finally had the opportunity to visit the garden of my friends Justin and Max in Oakland. I'd long followed the garden's evolution—and its plant and animal inhabitants—on Max's and Justin's Instagram pages. Seeing their garden in person was a bit like déjà vu, but there were still plenty of surprises.

The biggest was how mature the plantings were, considering the garden is only 3 years old. There is no automatic irrigation system so everything is hand-watered; Max says even that isn't as regular as it could or should be. The mild Oakland climate definitely helps speed things along!

Max is a professional horticulturist working for a large landscape construction company, and his and Justin's garden masterfully combines their personal favorites. As I was driving down their street, I knew immediately which property was theirs since no other house had a garden like theirs. (Their next-door neighbor gave them permission to plant up their front yard so soon two lots on their street will have standout gardens.)

I took so many photos that I've split my post into two parts. This one installment is about the front garden. Part 2 is about the back garden.